The Record Ship drops anchor
The Record Ship, located at 230 N. Cleveland, is the latest record store to open in Wichita.
Located at 230 N. Cleveland, the store quietly opened in August after extensive preparation. Featuring a selection of new and old vinyl as well as CDs and books, the store is open six days a week with generous hours to allow music lovers a chance to swoop in on one treasure or another.
Owner Les Easterby says he's long wanted to open such a shop and that his decades as a musician (with bands such as The Wichita Flag, The World Palestine and And Academy) have helped him hone his taste in curation. (Easterby is also a real estate agent.)
He recently stopped by KMUW to discuss the store's history.
Tell me about opening The Record Ship.
It's been idea that's been in the back of my head for a long time. When I was real young, I was a big fan of music, and it's been one of the most important things in my life. I started going to record stores in the '90s. For a time, I thought it would be nice to work at a record store or maybe open a record store. I think all record collectors at one point think they'd like to do that.
In October 2015, I started working at one of the local record stores, and I worked there for about five years. There's no employee handbook for that type of thing so you learn by doing. I'd gotten to the point where I'd done pretty much everything you could possibly do there. Once 2020 hit, they closed down the schools, so I had a choice to make. I could keep doing that or go home and take care of my family. That's when I stopped doing that and started doing real estate full-time.
I was still selling records from home, and I would do pop-up events and go to flea markets. People would ask me if I had a store and when I would say no, there would be some disappointment; that led me to believe that there was the need for another store. In my lifetime it seems like there have always been at least three stores in town. I missed being part of the community and having interactions with fellow music lovers. The right time and the right set of circumstances came about, and that's when I decided to go for it.
It seems that with record stores a lot of times there's curation on the part of the owner, and it seems to me that your store has that.
It's a smaller store so I can be a lot more personal with it. With bigger stores, sometimes you can tend to feel overwhelmed. Sometimes it takes a long time to go through everything; things might start to feel stale. So one of the nice things about having a smaller store is that I can be a little more personal with it and carry more of the stuff that I like in addition to a broad amount of genres and different things that other people like. I can show a little more of my personality, and I can be a little more personal with other people as well.
There are a lot of smaller stores in bigger cities that are able to flourish. People like to go into a place a couple of times a week, spend 30 minutes and find something they want. There's a nice flow of inventory that comes in and out. I think it always stays fresh with having a smaller store.
I really feel that small businesses are going to make a strong comeback in the coming years. Do you have a sense of that as a small business owner?
I do. I think there's always going to be Walmart and the mall and stuff like that. I appreciate those places, and I think there's definitely a place for it. But I think people do want to support local businesses and more personalized businesses because it's more special. You could call them specialty stores, too. If you go in, it's not like you're going to find 10 copies of a really popular record and you're buying from a machine. You can find something you're excited about it and bring it home and feel good about it. I think there's a lot of room for more independent stores and smaller stores. I'm a busy guy. I don't have a lot of time to roam around Walmart looking for records. I'm just wanting to go into a positive atmosphere and find something fun.
Tell me about that experience that I'm sure you've had, when a young person comes in and they're buying their first record and their parent has brought them in, whatever it is, whether it's Beyonce or Elf Power.
It's great because everyone has different interests, and they collect different things. Different people will collect CDs or tapes, even movies. They can get really excited about it. It's fun for me to facilitate that type of passion. Anything that's music-related that I can help somebody find their passion in makes me feel good. I think it's good for everyone.